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Teaching about the law

Gospel Reading: Mt 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Wait a moment – is Jesus not contradicting himself? Has he not more than once “violated” the Sabbath law and other laws and so come into conflict with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law?

At least two answers can be given. First, Jesus criticizes the legalistic observance of the law and teaches through his actions the spirit of the law. When a person is in need on the Sabbath day, then the spirit of the law urges one to respond to this need and not refuse the help because the law prohibits doing this or that.

Legalism may also be a trap for many Christians who hide behind a law of the Church and so avoid reaching out in love to neighbors.

Secondly, Jesus combines “law and prophets.” In his time this term means the whole Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament.

Jesus then says that he does not do away with all that God has revealed in the sacred scriptures but that what is written there is a preparation for his ministry. He brings to fulfillment what the Jewish ancestors have been waiting and longing for.

Matthew quotes the Old Testament times and declares their fulfillment in Jesus. As Pope John Paul II once put it, Jesus was not like a meteor that fell from the sky, but he was deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition and scriptures.

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